More managers see good than bad in outsourcing

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Outsourcing is a fact of life in government IT.

In a GCN telephone survey, most IT managers said their agencies contract with industry for IT support and services, and most expect to do even more outsourcing in the next two years.

A solid number of survey participants, 64 percent, believed that IT outsourcing was generally beneficial to government agencies.

'Outside expertise can be very helpful,' said a General Services Administration IT manager in Washington.

'We haven't had any problems that I can see,' said a Labor Department IT specialist in Washington.

But other managers were more circumspect.

'Contractors don't have the intimate knowledge of our systems for timely solutions,' said an Environmental Protection Agency computer specialist in Denver.

'We need good product delivered on a timely basis,' said a Veterans Affairs Department engineer in Washington. 'Neither has always been the case with outsourcing.'

'When you outsource, you lose continuity, institutional knowledge, commitment and loyalty,' said an Army information management chief in Little Rock, Ark.

Understanding constraints

'It's hard to find [contractors] who understand the government's constraints,' added a Labor Department IT instructor in Bristol, Tenn.

'Outsourcing adds another layer of management,' said an Army Corps of Engineers systems administrator in Davis, Calif. 'I would prefer to have the expertise in house.'

Indeed, others thought that in-house staff could do the job as well or better.

'No one can do our job as great as we can,' said a Social Security Administration systems manager in Baltimore.

'I think our in-house staff does a sufficient job,' said an Interior Department computer specialist in Del Rio, Texas, whose office doesn't outsource IT.

Still other managers found the cost of outsourcing problematic.

'It's more expensive, and the quality of service is uneven,' said an Air Force network security manager in Waldorf, Md.

'It's not cost-effective,' said a U.S. District Court chief technology officer in Savannah, Ga. 'It's a paper exercise.'

Nonetheless, agencies are trying to maximize the benefits of outsourcing by using performance-based contracting, the survey found.

More than half the managers we talked with, 51 percent, said their procurement offices are using performance-based contracts for IT outsourcing.

The survey found that the top two outsourced services were help desk (65 percent) and desktop support (64 percent). Application development was next at 59 percent.

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